A Western Christmas(5)

By: Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge



Feet propped up on the lone desk in the room, Prescott Kramer eyed him with the affable nonchalance that defined him. “Morning, Sheriff.”

Caleb nodded. “Deputy.”

Younger than Caleb by five years, Prescott was nearly his same height, a full inch over six feet, but broader in the shoulders and back. His eyes were a startling pale blue and he sported a head of thick, jet-black hair. The combination seemed to make the man popular with the ladies.

No arguing that women liked Prescott and Prescott liked women. That didn’t mean he wasn’t a fine lawman. He had lightning-quick reflexes and a calm head in tough situations. Caleb had hired him eighteen months ago and had yet to regret the decision.

Flashing a row of perfectly aligned, sparkling white teeth, the deputy slowly rose to his feet and ambled over to the coffeepot sitting atop the potbellied stove. He filled two tin cups with the thick brew they both preferred, kept one for himself and then handed the other to Caleb.

Chilled from his time outdoors, Caleb took a grateful sip of the steaming liquid. “Any problems arise overnight I need to know about?”

“Nope.” Prescott shook his head. “All quiet. Took the opportunity to read.”

Caleb nodded again. The one pursuit Prescott loved nearly as much as getting to know a new woman in town was reading a good novel. “Glad to hear you spent your time productively.”

Prescott could have taken a short nap last night and it wouldn’t have mattered much. Although Thunder Ridge was a regular stop on the union     Pacific rail line, with its no-saloon ordinance and a strong Christian presence, it was also a peaceful community.

Not that there weren’t concerns that arose on occasion.

Caleb and Prescott dealt with random cases of vandalism, scuttles that came from high tempers and, of course, the occasional dispute over property lines. But the jail cells remained mostly empty. And now that Caleb’s brothers were scattered all over the West, there was even less trouble in town.

Most days, his job was boring, exactly the way he liked it. He’d had enough chaos for one lifetime, first from his unpredictable childhood and then from his volatile marriage.

“Want me to take the ride through town this morning?” Prescott asked, referring to their daily routine check-in with the local businesses.

“I’ll do it.” Caleb had already performed an initial inspection of the outlying ranches before coming in to work. Once he rode through town and spoke with the shopkeepers individually, he’d take Gideon to the livery for a much needed brushing and rest. “You can go on home, Pres.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice.” The deputy drained his coffee then set down his empty cup next to the stove.

With more enthusiasm than usual, he shoved his arms in his coat then jammed his hat on his head. Instead of heading out, he paused at the doorway. “Hey, Sheriff, got a question I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while now.”

That sounded ominous. “Okay, shoot.”

“Just how well do you know Ellie Wainwright?” A speculative gleam shone in the deputy’s eyes. “Well enough, say, to make an introduction?”

Caleb’s blood ran cold at the obvious masculine interest in the question. Prescott was nothing if not predictable. In truth, Caleb wasn’t all that surprised by the deputy’s inquiry, only that it had taken the man an entire two weeks to ferret out information about Ellie Wainwright.

Still.

“Don’t go getting any ideas.” A burst of temper spiked his tone to a near guttural growl. “Ellie’s off-limits.”

The warning only seemed to stir the man’s interest further. “Why? Somebody already courting her?”

Not if Caleb had anything to say about it. “She’s not available for an introduction and that’s the end of it.”

“You sure about that?” Prescott scratched a hand across his jaw, his eyes taking on a thoughtful light. “I haven’t seen her with any man since she came home.”

True. Nevertheless...

Caleb wasn’t introducing Ellie to Prescott. Or, for that matter, any other unmarried man in town.

He told himself he was acting on Everett’s behalf. He owed it to his friend to keep an eye on the man’s little sister while he was in prison. This wasn’t personal. It was simply the right thing to do.

Also By Renee Ryan and Louise M. Gouge

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